The Washington Post Proves You Can’t Trust the Media

News sources today suffer from an accuracy problem. Journalists are under pressure to publish first in a dramatic buzz-worthy way to drive traffic. And there are fewer journalists. Those that remain are younger and less experienced, and they have to produce more content. The end result is an alarming amount of inaccurate stories that are tabloidesque in nature. This is true of small and large media outlets alike, as evidenced by a series of stories produced by the Washington Post‘s sports section in the past two weeks.

Last week a media debacle unfolded for the Washington Nationals, largely created by errant Washington Post articles. The news that Bud Black was hired as the Nationals Manager — a story reported by the Washington Post’s James Wagner and then echoed across every sports rag in the country — was wrong. Instead they hired Dusty Baker.

When the tsunami of reporters descended on the strange twist, they shellacked Nationals ownership for underbidding Black and being only willing to extend a two-year contract at no more than $2 million per year, plus incentives. Leading the charge was the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (whose Twitter bio reads “Riding the line between honesty and schmucky journalist piling on”), who tarred and feathered the owners as out of touch, insulting, and cheap.

Personally, I thought the coverage was vindictive. Keep in mind Kilgore authored a series of Washington Post “expose” style articles at the end of the season detailing the Nationals horrid downward spiral. Again, ownership and management was tarnished (it’s never the players fault, is it?).

Where the Post Went Wrong

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There were two primary points the Post missed in the Bud Black/Dusty Baker story. At issue in the original story were Wagner’s nebulous sources, “according to multiple people familiar with the situation.”

Better sources were needed (says Captain Obvious after the fact). Every sports magazine and news outlet across the country that cited Wagner’s story as the definitive source should be ashamed of their blind shallow reporting.

At the Baker press conference, GM Mike Rizzo stated that he had told reporters that he wouldn’t go to print with the story, but the Post ignored him. Then on a local sports radio show, Rizzo said, “the media jumped the gun.” Dusty Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Nationals at the time the Black story came out, and felt hurt. In hindsight, maybe that was the ultimate sign that the managerial hire wasn’t finished.

An even bigger whiff was the Kilgore article slamming the Lerners’ character for not wanting to hire a manager for more than two years at a $2 million clip. The reason is simple: GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is up at the end of next year. After the horrid Matt Williams debacle, the terrible Papplebon trade, and horrific bullpen and bench moves over the past two years, the Lerners might be losing faith in Rizzo. The 2016 season is a make or break year for Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals.

Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, a former general manager, spoke on the 106.7 show Grant and Danny on November 4 (segment 5). Phillips was quick to point out that new GMs don’t like to inherit managers. They hire their own manager as soon as possible. No GM wants to inherit a manager with an odious four or five year contract from his predecessor. So new Nationals Manager Dusty Baker really has one year to save Rizzo’s job, two to save his own.

As for the salary amount, that’s business. And in the end, Baker agreed to the $2 million a year salary plus another $3 million in potential bonuses. If the rate was too low, the position would have been unfulfilled.

Bad Reporting Is the Norm

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The past few months of the Washington Post‘s sports coverage reminded me more of the National Enquirer than a storied news outlet. Woodward and Bernstein did not write these pieces. Instead, the articles read more like ESPN gaffes. The 24 hour network has been know to incorrectly publish stories as quickly as possible and ducking responsibility for them.

Poorly researched dramatic news stories are normal now. Reporters are strapped. They have to do more with less, and the end result is increasing errors and over-the-top drama. That’s across all types of media. There are no sacred mastheads anymore. Every outlet has a bias, and most reporters are chumming the social network waters for the most shares.

Blind faith in the media is a mistake. Triangulate sources, and make sure different articles are not citing the same originating story. More than anything, question everything you read and see.

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps the Washington Post printed a retraction on the last page of the sports section at some point over the past week. That’s where such errors are usually buried unnoticed by the masses. Who knows? I don’t read a physical print paper anymore (do you?).

More importantly, are there any trustworthy news sources out there anymore?

The Inevitable Downfall of Native Advertising

I’d like to offer a word of caution for those who may be over-excited about native advertising. Native advertising works for a couple of reasons; audiences aren’t used to embedded corporate content, and these media forms are somewhat deceptive, and don’t appear as sponsored.

Those two factors create a bubble that will surely burst once readers and viewers get tricked enough times.

Just this past Monday a friend complained about a Buzzfeed article focusing on entertainment ideas that happneed to be sponsored by a potato chip company. The problem with the article its lack of disclosure, and every suggestion was followed by a push for X-brand chips.

I recently saw both SocialMedia.org CEO Andy Sernovitz and Edelman EVP Steve Rubel discuss the conundrums of native advertising. At both events, Andy and Steve discussed how important it was to clearly disclose paid sponsorship of any media promptly. Andy noted that many forms of native advertising are in violation of the FTC’s disclosure rules, and then coached attendees on best practices.

I’m not sure that’s going to happen without significant consequence. Though the FTC acts periodically, real impact will come in the form of decreasing results. This is inevitable as more and more consumers distrust content featuring brands, and the mastheads and social networks that publish questionable content.

The decline is already happening. Last year a study showed that most people view brands who engage in native advertising more negatively or not at all. I wonder how people feel now that we are almost done with 2013, and they have become more familiar with embedded promotions.

Like all advertising methods, a two percent yield will likely be enough to keep native promotions viable, but at the same time let’s not get crazy here.

As more brands move to blend content with ads, the impact will match every other tactic that becomes widely practiced by marketers. We can expect less consumer trust, lower yields, and a need for higher levels of quality to achieve success. Worse, rather than raising the tide of the overall marketing program, native advertising will negatively impact trust across all forms of digital advertisements.

Moving forward, contextual media will force media outlets and advertisers to get even more creative with their efforts to get in front of consumers. Intrusions will not be tolerated as openly as they are now. Perhaps the open sponsorship models of the 50s will take hold as brands pay to make relevant information available in exchange for a brief update. Who knows?

What do you think? Are we heading for a decline in native advertising success?

Featured image by the Altimeter Group.

Monetize Influence and Lessen It

There is a movement about how to monetize individual blogger and online personality influence. Influencers considering monetization of their online trust should also weigh how such strategies can lessen trust within a community, and hurt search rank.

This old debate goes back to paid blogging and affiliate marketing. As in those past cases, every influencer today needs to weigh how monetization efforts tax their good will.

Influence online is often a result of becoming an integral part of a community and providing good information. When you add affiliate links, sponsorship, consultancies, clients, advertisements, products and other forms of monetization to the mix, a transition occurs. In the paid, earned, and owned model of media, you are moving from earned (natural word of mouth) to owned or paid media. Both of those types of media are less trustworthy to communities.

Part of building trust is putting your customer ahead of profits and operating honestly. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest causes of trust deterioration in the financial sector is conflict of interest and scandals.

Performance-Clusters

No one wants to begrudge monetization. Creating and building a significant online presence takes a strong and sustained consistent effort over months and years. Peer trust requires consistency. Why shouldn’t one benefit from it?

Certainly, done in a strategic way, such as books on a topical area, paid speaking gigs and the like, business strategies can actually enhance a strategy. But others add a factor of distrust.

When I read a consultant’s blog about xxx professional service area that the author is promoting a business. And I take that into context. So do most readers.

People take these motives into consideration when they read my blog posts and books on marketing. I’ve been told so by more discerning customers.

That’s why I am very careful about how many asks I make of readers, the content I share, the lack of paid advertisements here, etc. For example, I almost never take pitched blog ideas, and don’t offer affiliate links. The trade off isn’t worth it, in my opinion, especially considering that I consult, sell books, and raise money for causes here.

The suggestion that one should monetize influence may not be constructed correctly. Rather, a personality should weigh whether that monetization strategy is worth the negative impact.

What do you think?